ROSWELL, Ga. — Roswell’s Crime Free Housing Program has come under scrutiny for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, along with Georgia Justice Project and Legal Aid Atlanta, asked the city a second time in a letter sent Nov. 6 to reevaluate its program. The organization sent the message after its first letter, sent in early April, received no response from the city.
The new Roswell police chief, hired over the summer, is now reviewing the program and working with city officials, attorneys and the ACLU on a solution, according to Police Public Information Officer Sean Thompson.
In the meantime, the program is on hold.
“In its current form, Roswell’s Crime Free Housing Program continues to expose the City of Roswell to liability,” the ACLU states. “The program requires landlords to engage in far-overreaching criminal history screening of potential tenants. The result is many well-deserving men and women and their families — the vast majority of whom are people of color — being shut out from living in the city. The result is unlawful discrimination.”
The Crime Free Housing Program is an initiative started by the International Crime Free Association, headquartered in Nevada, and is designed to keep illegal activity off of rental property. Apartment complexes that choose to join the program in Roswell are required to give prospective tenants a criminal background check, as outlined in the program’s introductory membership letter.
The program states that if a prospective tenant has been convicted of a violent felony, they will be turned away. In the case of a nonviolent felony, the current program requires that at least 10 years have passed since the offense before the application can be considered. Anyone with a misdemeanor conviction within the past three years, which may include driving with an expired license, or an active warrant may also be disqualified under the program.
The ACLU said these restrictions violate the Fair Housing Act and pointed to the active warrant disqualification as an example.
“These limits are substantially overbroad,” the ACLU said in the letter to Roswell. “An open warrant does not even signify that the applicant for housing is fleeing the police or evading court. In Georgia, a judge can issue a bench warrant when a person does not appear for a scheduled criminal court date, even when the only notice of that court date was mailed to his last known address and he no longer lives there… Excluding persons with active warrants, then, cannot be justified in terms of any demonstrable impact on the safety of residents or property.”
The letter asked the city to revise or revoke its criminal history policy as a part of the Crime Free Housing Program.
“Preventing people who have been arrested, were formerly incarcerated, or were convicted but not incarcerated from reintegrating into our society increases recidivism, homelessness, and ultimately more crime,” the ACLU said.